GVMC To Back Either Engler Or Sikkema

March 25, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council are trying to decide how Michigan should be linked for broadband service. Should they back the proposal made by Gov. John Engler? Or the one presented by State Sen. Ken Sikkema?

Both claim their proposals will bring high-speed telecommunications access to all parts of the state, even the most remote areas. And both claim theirs will increase Michigan’s chances to attract high-tech firms to the state. Not a lot to choose from there, so the Metro Council has narrowed its focus to the fees attached to each.

While Engler’s plan calls for a nickel-per-linear-foot annual charge for telecom lines, Sikkema’s charges 4 cents per linear foot and phases the fee in over a four-year period. Four of the governor’s five cents would be returned to local governments to pay for rights-of-way fees. Sikkema, R-Grandville, does the same with his charge.

The extra penny found in the governor’s plan would go to the state agency in charge of the system, an entity that would push for broadband development in undeveloped areas. Sikkema eliminates that penny from his proposal.

But Engler dropped his effort to repeal the End Line User Fee in order to get telecom companies to support his plan. Sikkema, however, reintroduced the fee, saying it would mean a levy for users, and is opposed to a tax increase of any kind.

Sikkema’s plan has a provision that would allow telecom companies to receive a property tax decrease to offset any of his plan’s charges if they can prove that the fees would cause a hardship for the firm. The senator also wants SBC/Ameritech to fully explain why it needs its end-user charge to the Public Service Commission — or drop it.

According to GVMC Legislative Coordinator Gayle McCrath, the Michigan Township Association, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Small Business Association favor the Engler plan. McCrath said the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce told her that it had decided to back the Sikkema proposal.

Mayor John Logie noted that Sikkema, in his position as chair of a key Senate committee, has the potential to influence the outcome of any statewide broadband law.

“This pot is still stewing,” he said. “I think we need to wait and see if it’s something that we all want to throw our shoulders into.”

Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton said he attended the unveiling of the Engler proposal and said there was a strong show of support for the governor’s plan at that event.

“At that point in time, the only group that noticeably did not show support was the state chamber. However, there were local chambers that did show support,” said Hilton.

“It’s been quite widely received and the governor’s intent, of course, is to bring this to areas not likely to be reached by private industry,” he added.

Instead of taking a vote on which plan to get behind, Metro Council Chairman Jim Buck suggested that the executive and legislative committees take another look at both and bring it back to the full board next month.

But members did approve a contract with URS Corp. for a traffic study of a north-south corridor in eastern Ottawa County. The study will cost about $50,000 and federal funds will pay for about 80 percent of that charge. The work is expected to get started as soon as the state gives its approval and take from six to nine months to complete.          

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